This past February, at the Los Angeles Cannabis Cup at the NOS Center in San Bernardino, High Times writer Cesar Soriano, 24, waited patiently backstage as weekend headliner B.o.B. finished performing his hit "HeadBand." Then, just as the song ended, Soriano strolled onto stage with what appeared to be an enormous dark green baton exuding smoke, handing it to the befuddled superstar.
The rapper took a tentative puff, and his eyes widened. What was this thing? He took a few more hits, longer and deeper than the first, and then raised the intricately constructed, half-pound cannabis cigar triumphantly in the air. The crowd went wild. Backstage, the mad genius who had painstakingly constructed the elaborate, multilayered cigar breathed a sigh of relief.
On Instagram, his 58,000 followers know him as afgoo_head, a prolific marijuana wizard whose surreal, 100 percent cannabis creations seem almost impossible to smoke, let alone to construct. In real life, he's a fidgety, modest former Los Angeles high school teacher with a goatee and thin glasses.
And he prefers to keep a tight lid on his identity.
Because although this 35-year-old South Los Angeles resident has earned admiration from weed aficionados and blunt historians worldwide, his family and former colleagues have no idea that he grows pot, let alone being aware of his feats of smokeable artistry.
"No face shots," he told the fans who wanted to take photos with him on the convention floor in San Bernardino. It was a weekend of top-shelf bud, 70.75 percent THC butane hash oil and detailed seminars on everything from growing to legalization, but even the pros at High Times were floored by afgoo_head's craftsmanship.
"His work belongs in a museum," Soriano says. Even Cypress Hill's B Real was impressed when he took a few hits backstage, particularly with how slowly it burned and how light the hit felt.
Afgoo_head draws inspiration from the Thai sticks that soldiers used to smoke in the 1970s in Vietnam, also known to growers as "harvest cigars" - whole buds of marijuana tied with hemp rope around a bamboo stick or cannabis plant stem.
The idea was that you removed the hemp rope and pulled the stick out before smoking, creating a thin passageway for airflow and obviating the need to grind the weed.
But afgoo_head has gone way beyond that. After a few months of tinkering last year, he began coating the flowers in alternating layers of wax, hash and whole cannabis leaves, which harden into a protective shell. Each layer takes about two days to dry, and each cigar takes about two weeks to complete.
"This is going to be the future of cannabis cigars," says James, 25, of Gold Coast Extracts, an L.A.-based extraction team, which took top concentrate honors at the 2013 Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam and Seattle. (Because extracting cannabis concentrates remains illegal in California, James did not want to reveal his last name.)
James and the team at Gold Coast were so impressed with afgoo_head that they supplied all of the wax, gratis, for two cigars he's whipping up for the Denver Cannabis Cup on April 19-20.
All of this architectural prowess shouldn't be surprising, really, considering that at age 16 afgoo_head was commissioned to design a religious building in his parents' hometown in Mexico after taking only basic architecture classes at a South Los Angeles high school. He later studied architecture and design in college.
Commenters often ask why afgoo_head never feels tempted to just stop and smoke what he's working on, but he says that when he's putting together his latest creation, he dissociates the materials he's working with from their psychotropic properties.
"When I'm in work mode, I just see the wax as glue," he says.
A typical 7-inch handmade cannabis cigar will contain 7 grams of marijuana, an eighth of a gram of butane hash oil and 2 grams of hash.
It'll set you back at least $300. He currently has more than 45 custom cigars in various stages of development. More complex and expensive iterations might contain up to six different strains packed around five or six skewers. Sometimes he angles the sticks to create an image, such as a cannabis leaf or a skull, on the end of the cigar.
He's also experimented with form, including the Canna Pipe - which, like a bread bowl, you can smoke after you smoke out of it - and the Thaitanic, a complicated, ship-shaped cigar with a built-in carburetor and four vertical funnels for maximum airflow.
"I have to drop a blueprint for that one," he says of the Thaitanic.
Of course, the humble teacher enjoys lesson-planning his work. Normally Instagram is all about photos, but afgoo_head's instructional, text-heavy posts are beloved in the cannabis community. Detailed explanations also are available on his website, CannAlchemy.com. He's thinking of writing a book to cement his legacy and share his trade.
Like many good teachers, he might digress into seemingly unrelated topics, such as nuclear disarmament or the semaphore flag alphabet. Or he'll pair shots of bud with Shakespeare ("Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing"), while pontificating that evidence of sativa was found in pieces of a clay pipe excavated in 2001 near the Bard's home.
Afgoo_head says one of his primary motivations in maintaining his anonymity is that he would like to return to teaching architecture and engineering at high school.
"It would really suck if this came back and bit me in the ass at some point," he says. "But how may assistant principals actually Google their teachers?
He's never seen Breaking Bad, but people have told him he makes them think of Walter White, and he says at least 50 of his former students unknowingly follow him on Instagram.
His family thinks that the unmarried man does odd jobs to make his money. Which if you think about it, is true. One of his worries is that they may notice the smell. "I'm constantly rubbing my hands with napkins dipped in rubbing alcohol," he says.
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Sometimes, afgoo_head feels overwhelmed by the small empire he's created and nervous about whether he can remain anonymous.
Then again, he's not ready to retire, saying, "That's kind of like Pink's saying, 'I don't want to do this anymore, somebody else make the hot dogs.'?"
Afgoo_head's custom creations can be ordered directly from him via email; find him at email@example.com.
Pick up this week's print edition of L.A. Weekly for its special medical marijuana advertising section.